A drought of “uncertain duration,” is how California Governor Jerry Brown described the historic heat and lack of rain hitting his thirsty state and its 39 million inhabitants.
News sources estimated that 12 million trees have died due to the lack of rain (nearly the same number of olive trees Italian authorities have proposed cutting down to combat a bacteria outbreak also blamed on climate change). The threat of huge fires looms in California’s great forests.
You would need to go back 1,200 years to find a worse dry spell in California than the last three years, a recent report found. According to the Los Angeles Times, California had the driest January, and the hottest February, since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began keeping records in 1895.
Regulators in the state have ordered municipalities to reduce usage by 25 percent after data showed that voluntary cutbacks resulted in almost no reductions.
While golf courses and cemetery lawns go brown and cars get dirty, its California farms that use 80 percent of the water in the state, and no cutbacks were imposed on the huge agriculture industry.
“They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” Governor Jerry Brown told ABC News. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world.”
Almonds alone account for 10 percent of the state’s water usage. One study found it takes more than one gallon of water to grow a single almond. California almond farms use three times the water as the city of Los Angeles. But it’s too easy to vilify the “Devil’s Nut,” as some have called it.
“California is running through its water supply,” wrote Steven Johnson in Medium, “because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country.”
Which is to say that California’s drought is our drought too. And while it has been pointed out many times that olives, having adapted to dry Mediterranean climates, need far less water than other crops, we will always need vegetables to pour our EVOO over.